EFSA’s Scientific Committee promotes alternatives to animal testing

EFSA’s Scientific Committee has underlined the importance of risk assessment approaches in the area of food and feed safety which not only minimise the use of experimental animals and their suffering but also lead towards the replacement of animal testing. The published opinion reviews the state-of-the-art concerning the use of experimental animals in different areas of EFSA’s risk assessment activities, and outlines strategies which can reduce the number of animal studies needed.

The opinion stresses that animal testing should be conducted in line with guidelines endorsed by the European Commission, EU agencies or other international bodies such as the OECD. It also recommends a dialogue between EFSA and the European Commission on the best ways to address the inclusion of new, validated testing methods in existing guidelines based on the replacement, reduction and refinement of animal testing. Furthermore, it stresses the importance of good communication in this area between the different agencies dealing with chemical risk assessment.

“This opinion is a thorough review of the guiding principles on the use of animals for experimental purposes. It summarises possibilities for replacement, reduction and refinement of animal testing within the different areas of EFSA’s activities. We hope it will help EFSA in further developing a proactive approach to animal welfare in its risk assessment activities based on sound scientific principles,” said Professor Vittorio Silano, Chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee.

Most of the risk assessments conducted by EFSA require experimental data. It is currently not possible to obtain all the necessary data and information required to ensure a high level of consumer protection without some use of animal experiments.

This opinion lists the type of internationally-recognised alternative methods to animal testing which are available for different types of studies used in risk assessment – e.g. acute toxicity, skin irritation and eye irritation testing – and says that these should be used in line with existing Community legislation[1] . For areas where alternative methods cannot provide all of the necessary information, such as reproductive and developmental toxicity, the opinion describes integrated testing and risk assessment strategies which can help to reduce the need for animal experiments.

The opinion also proposes ways to better implement animal welfare practices within EFSA’s work. The Scientific Committee notes that, in line with existing EU legislation, applicants submitting dossiers to EFSA should use accepted alternative methods to animal testing whenever possible. Moreover, the opinion emphasises the importance of fully reflecting the use of such methods in any guidelines for applicants developed by EFSA. The Scientific Committee also recommends that, when carrying out risk assessments, all existing data should be reviewed before any additional animal studies are requested.

This opinion is in line with EFSA’s commitment to continuing to improve animal welfare when conducting risk assessments. The Scientific Committee recommended that EFSA should follow up on this opinion with a review of progress in the field of alternatives to animal testing in three years’ time.

Notes to editors

This opinion, which is an output of the EFSA Scientific Committee’s working group on animal welfare, is among a series of initiatives taken at the national, European and international levels (by organisations including the OECD, OIE and different parts of the European Union) to promote alternatives to animal testing and improve the welfare of experimental animals.

Most recently, a cooperation agreement on the validation of alternatives to animal testing was signed in April 2009 by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), part of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, together with equivalent bodies in the US, Canada and Japan.

In 2005, EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) adopted an   opinion on the welfare of experimental animals   which examined the capacity of experimental animals to experience pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. The opinion also contained recommendations on improved welfare conditions and humane killing methods.

[1] Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes currently under revision.

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